Mallory Lake
Between Dark and Night
New Pastels by Mallory Lake
Mara Williams
Chief Curator
Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

Mallory Lake is a master of pastel. Her surface textures range from the dry, velvety softness we usually associate with the medium to an almost painterly pooling of color. It is, however, the subtlety and richness of her tones that truly astonishes. Lake attenuates grays with a finesse that recalls the nocturnes of James Abbot McNeill Whistler.

Steam trains, foggy nights, and the golden glow of monumental Beaux-Arts interiors inhabit the evocative and mysterious new work in this exhibit. Movie stills from classic film noir provide Lake with her source material. She borrows their theatrical lighting effects, and raking angles, their images of steam-enveloped railroad cars and eerily empty grand interiors to create a dialogue between what is seen and what is implied, or felt, emotionally and physically.

The mysterious scenes compel us to puzzle over their meaning. Why is the interior of such an imposing public space so sparsely populated? What is lurking around this corner or just outside that door? Who just arrived on the train platform? Why is the angle skewed, and how does it affect my equilibrium, my understanding of the scene? Lake’s command of her medium heightens the dramatic tension. In the exterior scenes, she subtly shifts her gray tones—silvery mists, steely clouds, inky skies—to capture fleeting atmospheric effects. By contrast, the interiors are bathed in golden light, intensifying the darkness lurking around or beyond architectural details.

But whether the drama of a scene is built through refined tonal shifts or through heightened contrast between light and dark, the effect creates psychological apprehension. A wonderful tension exists in the dark mysteries of a scene that the artist has rendered palpably beautiful. This dichotomy keeps the work on edge, and makes for an exciting viewing experience.

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